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Borough Adopts $22 Million 2005 Operating Budget

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough Council adopted its $22 million budget last Tuesday, successfully achieving a slight decrease in spending from 2004, and while the 4-2 vote ensured Borough taxpayers a decrease in municipal expenditures, the budget will still carry a five-cent tax hike for property owners.

The decrease in expenses, albeit slim, is still $230 less than the 2004 operating budget, and maintains the budget plan first proposed by Council on March 1. After a 12-cent hike in 2004, Council set a goal to decrease spending to start rebuilding its surplus by changing the health benefits plan for municipal employees and leaving six Borough positions vacant, including two police officer positions.

The Borough's surplus now hovers around $1.2 million. The municipal budget will increase taxes to 91 cents per $100 of assessed property value. As such, the average Borough homeowner with a home valued at $347,138 will pay $3,159 in municipal taxes.

With the passage of this year's budget, taxes, when factored with the school costs shouldered by residents, will increase 14 cents for Borough residents, to $1.72 per $100 of assessed property value. The Princeton Regional Schools $67 million budget was supported by voters in last month's elections, in addition to a second ballot question that allows the school district to exceed its state mandated spending cap by $1.9 million.

In past weeks, Councilman Roger Martindell questioned the wisdom behind $100,000 worth of capital purchases of books and compact discs. Mr. Martindell has maintained that money from a library endowment, worth an estimated $2 million, should have contributed to the purchases.

Mr. Martindell said that a "commitment" had been made to Council about five years ago when the library board and Council began discussions on library financing.

"We knew that it was going to tap our taxpayers at a time when they were feeling stress already," he said.

At an April 26 joint Borough/Township budget hearing, however, Library Director Leslie Burger said that while there is a $10 million goal for the endowment, any expendable monies from that fund, as of now, are being used to raise more funds and not necessarily toward operating expenses.

"I don't object to that," Mr. Martindell said, adding that his concern lay in the aforementioned commitment "to raise the endowment in part to defer the operating expenses of the library.

"It is time that we had a negotiation with the library as to when the funds will be made available and to what extent."

But Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, who voted in favor of the budget, said that if the Borough, right now, asked the library for part of the estimated $60,000 in expendable income from the endowment, it would hinder fund-raising efforts.

"We shouldn't nickel and dime the endowment campaign," she said, suggesting that the Borough wait to see more substantial endowment income before accepting those funds as payment for library purchases.

Councilman David Goldfarb cast the second dissenting vote, saying the Borough exceeded its projected revenue and that budgetary goals could have been met by committing less to the surplus, thus lowering the tax rate a few cents.

"We can meet our tax goals without increasing expenditures," he said.

Councilman Andrew Koontz refuted Mr. Goldfarb's point, saying that building back a surplus to mitigate the impact of future budget crunches is "good policy."

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